View Full Version : The Art of Revision

July 12th, 2015, 04:24 PM
I thought I'd take a bit to discuss what I consider one of the most important steps in writing poetry: revision. It's an important step in all writing, but for some reason I've seen that poets are less inclined to take it. What I'm about to write is derived from my own experiences with revising, but also from what I've learned reading articles, such as Nate Pritts' "How to Focus on Revision" in the 2014 Poets Market.

The first piece of advice that I can give anyone who is thinking about revising their poems is wait. Giving yourself space from your poem prior to revising it will help you revisit it with a fresh critical perspective. Wait at least 3 months after writing, or longer if you can stand it. For instance, everything that I am posting on here for critique is at least a year and a half old. The beauty of this is that if someone else rips it apart and tells me it's shit, I already think it's shit anyway. I've allowed myself time to grow as a writer before looking at my old writing, which helps me be both perceptive and receptive of its flaws.

The point of revision is partly to get back to your initial reason for creation, to try and remember what you were trying to accomplish and use the new perspective you've gained to get your poem where it was supposed to be. Again, this is easier when you've given yourself enough distance to detach yourself from the poem. Why? Because now you can act as both a reader and a writer. As its writer, you can see the potential of your initial vision. As its reader, you can see where the poem is failing that vision.

Another thing to consider when you revise is how you revise. Revision should go beyond mechanics. It's not just commas and word-choices. In the article I mentioned above, Pritts talks about two kinds of revision: intuitive revision and intentional revision. Intuitive revision is the choices you naturally want to make when you revisit an old poem. You might see a word that isn't right or a sentence that isn't working. If you're in a workshop environment, you might be inclined to automatically take what you see as good advice. These are all good things. Once you've gotten into revising enough, these things will also happen as you're writing new work. You'll change words, move sentences, cut lines, and so on.

But then there is intentional revision, and this is where you consider the very foundation of your poem and make more drastic changes. It is important to play with your poem. Does your poem take place in the spring? What happens when you change the setting to winter? What happens when you make the end of your poem the beginning of your poem? Is your speaker feeling sad? What happens if you make him apathetic? These changes may not always lead to a better poem, but in trying you are considering the range of your idea. I have had success in doing this. For instance, I wrote a poem last year where my speaker made "the worst mistake" of her life. In revision, I changed this idea to "the best mistake." It completely changed the way the poem read and made my initial reason for writing the poem ring through more clearly. That poem was accepted for publication a few months later.

I'll write more on this when I have a little more time, but I want to end by saying this: it is your poem, so ultimately, what happens to it is up to you. I think it's important to remember that when you're in a workshop environment. People will give you advice, but you don't have to take it. Consider all the advice you receive, but listen to your instincts. We all have different styles, different approaches to poetry. Listen to your voice, but also, don't be afraid to challenge it. Try to push yourself, to go outside your comfort zone. It is the only way to grow.

July 12th, 2015, 05:11 PM
to me that sounds like a long drawn out process to write a piece...often a bit of revision works just fine but months feels extreme..interested to find out what others think of the time scale....

July 12th, 2015, 05:20 PM
A lot of it depends on the piece, the context in which it was conceived and construed. One of mine, Lion of Winter, was much better after a massive revision months after the original was completed. Others like Violet Bright and the Glass Girl series, I will not change. They were solid from the get go, but then again, the sort of poetry I write is beyond odd. I am probably a finite exception to the rule, an aberration.

July 12th, 2015, 05:28 PM
to me that sounds like a long drawn out process to write a piece...often a bit of revision works just fine but months feels extreme..interested to find out what others think of the time scale....

Totally agree. That is a L-O-N-G drawn out process. Sure, I do believe in revision, but taking MONTHS for a piece, is extreme. Maybe write the poem, and then within a week or two, come back and revise it if you think it needs to be done.

The one thing I do agree with is, LISTEN TO YOUR INSTINCTS. If it feels right to you, go for it. You're the one feeling, experiencing,expressing what you, the writer, are writing about, regardless of the all the technicalities of poetry.

July 12th, 2015, 05:37 PM
Well, the point is to take a break so you're detached from it, not to work on it for months. And again, this is just derived from my own experiences and education. It is not a hard and fast rule. This is what I've found works if your goal is to create strong publishable poems. Everyone has their own methods, but most of what I've read and learned involves a time gap of some kind. Feel free to share your approach to revision!

July 12th, 2015, 05:52 PM
i enjoy first drafts...they always seem raw,open and in some ways the poets self..warts n all...polished pieces may bring a more refined piece and that has to be a good thing but as i say..first drafts for me every time..

July 12th, 2015, 05:58 PM
I will add to Bay's comments that the advice certainly does not mean you shouldn't do your best to improve the poem at the time it is written, or a few days within that. Quite often after I post a freshly written poem here, I make changes for days, most on my own, some in response to comment/critique which I believe has merit. One can rewrite or change at any time, after all. I have written poetry for decades, but have been most prolific lately. About five years ago, all my old poems were stolen by someone who was very disappointed to find nothing but my writings, and an actual page from an original 1611 King James version of the bible, which was worth the princely sum of about twenty-five bucks.

I could recall only one verbatim. I joined remembered lines from two which came out nice. I did remember a couple of songs in their entirety. Some I used remembered lines incorporated into new poetry. Pretty much all were improved in the process, so I well understand the value of revisiting at a later time. I see absolutely no reason to feel they must sit on a shelf - they can be shared now as is, and still changed later. The world is not likely to notice, nor to care if it did.

July 12th, 2015, 05:59 PM
Angel101, you might enjoy this feature guest interview with a poet named Bernadette Geyer: http://www.writingforums.com/threads/153720-Author-Interview-Berndadette-Geyer

Here is what she says on her process:

As for my poetry, I am typically very slow in my process. When I get something onto a blank page in my journal, and if I think it’s promising, I will typically type it up and print it out for myself. I have a small desk in the house that I call my “editing” desk. No computer, just the desk and a chair and a lovely lamp. Most often, I will put the draft there for a while (a week or two, maybe a month, depending on what else is going on in my life at the moment) so that I can return to it with a fresh perspective. I walk past the desk very frequently because of its location and so I feel like the poem is always asserting its presence, even if subconsciously. I’ll look at it, and tweak a word. Or, I’ll scan it and have a sudden thought and then sit down and revise for an hour. Then I let it sit again. Type up a revision, print it out, let it sit some more. I usually have several poems in various stages of this process. Sometimes I just eventually decide to file them in the “abandoned poems” folder.

Crowley K. Jarvis
July 12th, 2015, 06:00 PM
I have a few shorter pieces. They may be imperfect, but the sentiment and nostalgia they hold prevents me from butchering them.

But, on a longer piece, I'll stew on them for a considerable time.

I have two in the workshop I can recall, I have been quietly polishing in my spare time. I can't say how long it will take.

It's been weeks already. Have to let the brain leave the subject alone before you return to it.

Just don't lose your projects and forget them.

July 13th, 2015, 04:06 AM
I always revise. Many of my poems I've been working on for years-same with my prose. I write a poem go back to it every few months and revise. I sometimes have several different versions of my poem due to to rewrites. A poem for me is never finished it's a continuing song as my prose is a continuing dialogue.

July 13th, 2015, 04:23 AM
My process with my projects is odd. For the most part, my poetry doesn't take me more than a few hours, but there are pieces that have taken me months. Given the narratives I do, I format in segments, stopping at a point that will easily allow me to resume work on the project weeks to months after I last touched it.

I give the projects time to settle, but I also always have irons in the fire, irons with ties to the pieces that are on the back burner. I might do minor tweaking, but with a few exceptions, I have never shredded a piece to its barest minimum and rebuilt it. I see my poetry as a puzzle, each piece falling into place when it is ready. It is usually pretty quick for me, but it doesn't pay to rush, just pay enough attention to your instincts and you'll do fine. The good pieces will carry enough clout to swing through the down time.

- Darkkin, the Tedious of Ponds Bottom

July 13th, 2015, 10:27 AM
as i suspected most are caught between the instant and the re-visited works..depending on many variables...but i think to detach yourself from a poem is easy to do and going back months after is all part of the creative side...once you get published i would think that would be the end of it...but i suspect to there may have been changes to many famous poems,novels that have been altered in later publications....